Frank Cadogan Cowper
British, 1877 - 1958
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Sometimes referred to as 'the Last Pre-Raphaelite', Frank Cadogan Cowper was born in Wicken, Northamptonshire in 1877, son of Frank Cowper, an author who specialised in writing yachting novels. Grandson of the Rector of Wicken and raised in the faith of the Plymouth Brethren, young Frank had a strict religious upbringing, something which would have a profound, though unexpected influence upon his artistic career many years later.
He was educated at Cranleigh, before going on to study art, first at
St John's Wood Art School in 1896 and then at the Royal Academy Schools
from 1897-1902. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1899 and two
years later had his first critical success there with An Aristocrat
answering the Summons to Execution, Paris 1791. In 1902 Cadogan Cowper
spent six months in the studio of the successful American artist Edwin
Austin Abbey in Fairford, Gloucestershire, before travelling to
Italy to continue his studies. This intense, but varied art education
paid off; in 1904 he became an Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society,
in 1907 an Associate of the Royal Academy and in 1911 a full member of the RWS.
A fascination with the early works of Rossetti and Millais is evident in his
St Agnes in prison receiving the "shining white garment", a picture that was purchased
for the Tate Gallery with funds from the Chantrey Bequest. As well as
excelling as a painter in both the mediums of oils and watercolours,
Cadogan Cowper was equally proficient as a book illustrator, contributing
to Sir Sidney Lee's The Imperial Shakespeare, an edition which included works
by Dicksee, Rackham and Brangwyn. The attention to historical detail in his
works ensured a commission for the mural scheme in the Houses of Parliament
in 1910 along with fellow 'Neo-Pre-Raphaelites' Byam Shaw, Ernest Board
and Henry Arthur Payne, upon the recommendation of his mentor E A Abbey.
Cadogan Cowper also befriended the ageing Pre-Raphaelite painter
Arthur Hughes and they had a mutual admiration of each other's work.
A second Chantrey Bequest picture Lucretia Borgia reigns in the Vatican
in the absence of Pope Alexander VI was purchased for the Tate Gallery
in 1914, illustrating a little known episode from Renaissance times.
In this, and in other canvases, the artist often explored religious
subjects with a humourous slant, sometimes verging on the blasphemous -
a theme which continued throughout his career. In spite of this,
he received a commission to paint an altarpiece for Godalming Church,
with support from Sir Ninian Comper and the widow of G F Watts.
By the 1920s the market for meticulously painted literary and historical
scenes was in decline, although Cadogan Cowper's career as a portrait
painter continued to flourish. He regularly submitted portraits,
predominantly of young society ladies, to the Royal Academy summer exhibitions,
but by the time he was elected RA in 1934, modern taste had little time or
consideration for his painting style or subject matter. Fortunately
patrons like Evelyn Waugh and the Wills family of Misarden ensured
that his subject pictures found their way to appreciative homes.
He moved to Guernsey at the beginning of World War II, although he
was back living in Fairford, Gloucestershire by the end of the war.
He moved again in 1951, setting up studio in Cirencester, and
regardless of current trends, carried on producing and exhibiting his
Pre-Raphaelite style paintings with increased regularity.
The following year his painting of A jealous husband having disguised himself as a Priest, heard his own wife's confession
caused a bit of a scandal, and was not the first time that the
Roman Catholic church had voiced disapproval of one of his Royal
Academy paintings. He continued to exhibit, nevertheless, right
up until his death at the age of 81 in 1958. At his studio
sale in Cirencester shortly after his death, canvases were offered 'Suitable for reuse',
so unappreciated was his art. And as a final insult, the Goldalming
Church altar triptych was dismantled and sold to a buyer from the USA in 1964.
In more recent years, however, Cadogan Cowper's popularity is once again
in the ascendant. His diploma work Vanity (1907) recently graced the
front cover of the Royal Academy Magazine.
The Cathedral scene from “Faust” – Margaret tormented by the evil spirit (1919)
sold at auction for over £100,000 in the year 2000. The gallant knights and
tragic maidens that populate his pictures now mesmerize a new younger
audience who can fully appreciate the true worth of Frank Cadogan Cowper's art.
Biography by Scott Thomas Buckle
7 VIII 05
The Art Journal (1905)
Cadogan Cowper's painting of 'Molly, Duchess of Nona' is reproduced in colour in the 1905 edition of The Art Journal (pp.348-349), along with some biographical information about the painter:
"Mr. F. Cadogan Cowper, whose ‘Molly’ was one of the admired drawings at the extraordinarily successful summer exhibition of the Old Water-Colour Society, has rapidly come to the fore. Still well under thirty, he got his earliest art training in the St. John’s Wood Schools, passing in 1897 to those of the Royal Academy, where for five years he studied. By invitation he was for six months in the studio of Mr. Abbey, and afterwards sojourned for a time in Italy. He has been an exhibitor at Burlington House since 1899, and in 1901 his picture of a Paris aristocrat answering to the summons of execution in 1793 was hung on the line, his ‘Hamlet’ (the churchyard scene) of the following year being bought by the Queensland Government for the Brisbane National Gallery. In the spring of 1904 he was elected an associate of the Old Water-Colour Society, and this year the Chantrey Bequest purchased his ‘St. Agnes in Prison.’ This ‘St. Agnes’ is among the works which cause him to be ranked as a prominent neo-Preraphaelite."
Read the Pall Mall Magazine article about Frank Cadogan Cowper, originally published in 1908.
A selection of art exhibitions which have featured this